Bryan Cohen Dec. 11, 2013, 8:33pm

BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley formally opposed a $30.1 million rate increase request Wednesday that was made by Columbia Gas, citing allegedly lavish spending practices.

Coakley filed a reply brief this week with the Department of Public Utilities to strongly oppose the request. In the brief, she requested the DPU reject allegedly unwarranted costs and decrease the rate request to $5.5 million.

"Despite receiving a rate increase just last year, Columbia Gas is yet again seeking to pass millions more in unwarranted costs on to Massachusetts ratepayers," Coakley said. "As we've argued before, this company's latest rate request goes well beyond what is justified."

The proposed increase would result in an approximate 17 percent rate increase for consumers.

Bay State Gas Company, doing business as Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, provides natural gas service to approximately 295,000 industrial, commercial and residential customers in Massachusetts. The company received a $7.8 million rate increase in November 2012. Coakley alleged the rate increase included charges for chartering jets, an expense that cost ratepayers an average of $6,354 per passenger per flight.

The recent rate increase request allegedly includes higher costs from its corporate parent for its executive private and chartered airplanes, in addition to executive junkets to a Lenox spa resort.

The DPU must issue a ruling on the new rate hike request by March 1.

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